Tag Archives: x-37b

Using the X-37B as a space ambulance?

Researchers have proposed using the Air Force’s X-37B as an ambulance in space.

Halberg said that an effective astronaut taxi should, among other things, be able to stay at the ISS for two years or more at a stretch; be capable of getting people back to Earth rapidly, within three hours or so; impose minimal G-loads on occupants; have the ability to land close to a hospital; and allow patients to lie in a supine position. These requirements all point to a space plane rather than a capsule, Halberg said — meaning SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Boeing’s CST-100 capsule, which are scheduled to start flying NASA astronauts to and from the ISS within the next year or two, wouldn’t make the grade as ambulances.

Another private crew-carrying vehicle that’s currently in development, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser space plane, is an intriguing option that bears further investigation, Robinson and Halberg said. But their initial concept study focused on the robotic X-37B, chiefly because the 29-foot-long (8.8 meters) military space plane has already racked up millions of miles in orbit, while Dream Chaser has yet to launch.

Makes sense, though once Dream Chaser is flying it will have the potential to provide the same service with far greater capabilities.

X-37B orbit uncovered

Space hobbyists have pinpointed the classified initial orbit of the recently launched X-37B.

Observers this week spotted the craft flying overhead in a 194 by 202 mile orbit (312 X 325 km), tilted 38 degrees relative to the equator. That perch is lower than previous X-37B missions and the inclination is lower, too.

“OTV 4 entered the lowest initial altitude of the program,” said Ted Molczan, a respected satellite observing hobbyist. “The ground track nearly repeats every 2 days. Frequently repeating ground tracks have been a common feature of the program. This could be an indication of a surveillance mission, or it may offer some operational advantage I have yet to figure out.”

Not much else has as yet been uncovered.

A second experiment on the next X-37B flight revealed

NASA has outlined the materials research it will be conducting on the next X-37B flight, scheduled to launch on May 20.

Known as the Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space, or METIS, the investigation on the X-37B will expose nearly 100 different materials samples to the space environment for more than 200 days, NASA says. METIS is building upon data obtained by several missions of the Materials on International Space Station Experiment (MISSE), which flew more than 4,000 samples in space from 2001 to 2013. For both MISSE and METIS, small samples the size of quarters are used. METIS will fly a variety of materials including polymers, composites and coatings.

Not only does this information, plus earlier information about an Air Force ion engine thruster experiment, probably describe a great deal of what the X-37B is carrying, it also tells us the probable duration of the flight.

I have no doubt there are other classified Air Force experiments on board, but like these, they are likely to be test articles, since the X-37B provides the perfect testbed for exposing new technology to space to see how it fares.

X-37B to fly again!

The May 6 Atlas 5 launch will carry one of the Air Force’s two X-37B mini-shuttles on a new mission in space.

The Air Force won’t yet confirm which of the Boeing-built spaceplanes will be making the voyage. The first craft returned in October from a 675-day mission in space following a 224 day trek in 2010. OTV No. 2 spent 469 days in space in 2011-2012 on its only mission so far. “The program selects the Orbital Test Vehicle for each activity based upon the experiment objectives,” said Capt. Chris Hoyler, an Air Force spokesperson. “Each OTV mission builds upon previous on-orbit demonstrations and expands the test envelope of the vehicle. The test mission furthers the development of the concept of operations for reusable space vehicles.”

There are indications that the Air Force wants to attempt landing the shuttle at Kennedy this time.

The X-37B goes to Mars

After 675 days in space, the Air Force’s reusable X-37B mini-shuttle successfully returned to Earth today, completing its second flight in space.

There has been a lot of speculation about the secret payloads that the two X-37B’s have carried into space. The Air Force has been very tight-lipped about this, though they have said this:

“The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space, and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth,” Air Force officials wrote in on online X-37B fact sheet. “Technologies being tested in the program include advanced guidance, navigation and control; thermal protection systems; avionics; high-temperature structures and seals; conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems; and autonomous orbital flight, re-entry and landing,” they added.

The obvious advantage of the X-37B is that it allows the Air Force to test these new technologies in space, then bring them back to Earth for detailed analysis.

However, I think the most important engineering knowledge gained from this flight will not be from the payload, but from the X-37B itself.
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Orbiting X-37B to land on Tuesday

After twenty-two months in orbit, on its second space mission, the Air Force plans to bring the X-37B back to Earth this coming Tuesday.

The exact time and date will depend on weather and technical factors, the Air Force said in a statement released on Friday. The X-37B space plane, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, blasted off for its second mission aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 11, 2012. The 29-foot-long (9-meter) robotic spaceship, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, is an experimental vehicle that first flew in April 2010. It returned after eight months. A second vehicle blasted off in March 2011 and stayed in orbit for 15 months.

Air Force to take over two former shuttle hangers in Florida for its X-37B program

In an effort to find tenants for its facilities, the Kennedy Space Center is going to rent two former shuttle processing hangers to Boeing for the Air Force’s X-37B program.

NASA built three Orbiter Processing Facilities, or OPFs, to service its space shuttle fleet between missions. All three are located next to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at the Florida spaceport where Apollo Saturn 5 moon rockets and space shuttles were “stacked” for launch. Under an agreement with NASA, Boeing will modify OPF bays 1 and 2 for the X-37B program, completing upgrades by the end of the year.

The company already has an agreement with NASA to use OPF-3 and the shuttle engine shop in the VAB to assemble its CST-100 commercial crew craft being built to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The company says up to six capsules can be processed in the facility at the same time.

The most important take-away from this news is that it strongly suggests the Air Force now intends to expand the X-37B program. They will not only be flying both X37B’s again, they might even planning to increase the fleet’s size from two ships.

The X-37B just keeps going.

The Energizer bunny of space: The X-37B has now completed more than 600 days in orbit, with no indication when it will return to Earth.

The Air Force is believed to have only two X-37B space planes. These space planes have flown at otal of three missions, which are known as OTV-1, OTV-2 and OTV-3. (“OTV” is short for Orbital Test Vehicle.) The first mission blasted off in April 2010, and the craft circled Earth for 225 days. The second X-37B vehicle launched in March 2011, performing the OTV-2 mission. This spaceflight lasted 469 days, ultimately landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in June 2012. That was the same landing site OTV-1 used after completing its mission.

The current OTV-3 mission is reusing the first X-37B space plane from the OTV-1 flight, showcasing the reusability aspect of the program.

The Air Force’s X-37B mini-shuttle presently in orbit has now set a new record for the spacecraft’s longest flight.

The Air Force’s X-37B mini-shuttle presently in orbit has now set a new record for the spacecraft’s longest flight.

The X-37B space plane currently in orbit in flying the Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3) mission, the third long-duration flight of the unmanned Air Force spaceflight program. The miniature space shuttle launched on Dec. 11, 2012 and is surpassed the record for longest X-37B spaceflight on Wednesday (March 26). Until now, the record for the longest X-37B mission is 469 days, set by the program’s OTV-2 mission that was launched in 2011.

The OTV-3 mission in orbit today now uses the first of the Air Force’s two X-37B space plane vehicles. The same spacecraft was used to fly the first-ever X-37B mission (the 225-day OTV-1 flight in 2010), while a second vehicle flew the longer OTV-2 mission a year later.

Boeing is moving its X-37B operations to the Kennedy Space Center.

Boeing is moving its X-37B operations to the Kennedy Space Center.

A spy plane used by the U.S. Air Force is about to get a new home: a garage at Kennedy Space Center that once housed NASA orbiters during the space shuttle era. The move was announced Friday by Boeing, the Chicago-based company that built the X-37B spy plane and is in charge of repairing the spacecraft whenever it returns to Earth. Previously, Boeing had refurbished the 29-foot-long spacecraft at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but the company decided to relocate its fix-up shop in Florida, where the vehicle now launches.

Engine problems on a Delta 4 rocket launch two weeks ago could delay the launch of the Atlas 5 rocket scheduled to lift the X-37B on its next mission.

Engine problems on a Delta 4 rocket launch two weeks ago could delay the launch of the Atlas 5 rocket scheduled to lift the X-37B on its next mission.

Don’t ask me why the military would delay an Atlas 5 launch because of problems on a Delta 4. It seems to be left over caution from the 1960s, when no rocket was reliable and they were trying to figure out how to do it. Now, it simply seems silly.

Boeing vs Boeing.

Boeing vs Boeing.

The story describes how Boeing is considering upgrading the X-37B to become a manned ferry to ISS, thus putting it in direct competition with the company’s other manned capsule, the CST-100.

At the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’s Space 2011 conference in November, Boeing’s Arthur Grantz revealed that the company is studying a new derivative of the Boeing/USAF X-37B. The new X-37C would be 65-80% larger than the current B version. Launched by an Atlas V rocket, X-37C could carry pressurized or unpressurized cargo or 5-6 astronauts. Grantz is chief engineer in charge of X-37 at the Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems Experimental Systems Group .

Hat tip to Clark Lindsey.

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